Would Flight 77
Have Really Thrown Cars & People Off The Highway?
One of the pieces of evidence skeptics cite to claim that Flight 77 could not have hit the Pentagon is that the plane's incredibly low altitude would have thrown people and cars around the highway on the approach path like rag dolls by means of wake turbulence. How accurate is this assumption?
The scope of this short article is to raise questions, not debunk either side of the argument.
Wake turbulence is a problem for air traffic controllers and they have to schedule landings and take-offs carefully to ensure that planes do not adversely affect each other's balance by means of vortices created by wake turbulence. Wake turbulence takes around two minutes to clear.
Photographs and eyewitness accounts are consistent with the plane having an altitude of around 20 feet and traveling at 530 miles an hour, clipping lamp posts as it descended towards the Pentagon.
Many skeptics point to the 1999 movie Pushing Tin as an example of the effects of wake turbulence. At the end of the film, the main characters, played by Billy Bob Thornton and John Cusack, stand beneath a large commercial airliner as it comes in to land. The plane passes overhead and then lands on the runway, at which point both men are lifted up into the air and tossed a significant distance off to the side of the runway.
While a movie scene created by special effects can by no means be held up as empirical scientific evidence of the effects of wake turbulence it can at least be accepted that such a big budget production would go to great lengths to accurately portray what would happen.
Therefore it's salient to note that the two men are only thrown off the runway when they are in direct line of sight with the engines of the plane (after or just as the plane is landing) and are not affected when the plane is overhead.
So is it reasonable to conclude that wake turbulence is not going to cause significant problems for any object or person standing a reasonable distance below a jetliner?
Many point to the clipping and downing of lamp posts as evidence of the object's incredulous altitude. The damage of the lamp posts is consistent with a jetliner having a wingspan of over 100 feet, as can be seen in this illustration. A Boeing 757 has a wingspan of 125 feet.
Should cars and people have been tossed around the highway if a large commercial airliner whizzed by 20 feet above their heads?
Look at this photograph of a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Boeing 747 (click to enlarge) coming in to land at St. Maarten-Princess Juliana Int'l Airport in the Netherlands. The photographer claims the plane only cleared the fence by about 10 feet and we can estimate that it is not more than 30 feet above the people stood on the beach, yet there is no sign of waves or even sand plumes being lifted off the ground by any wake turbulence caused by the aircraft.
This is a photograph of an American Airlines 757-200, the exact same model as Flight 77, flying over the same beach. Though the aircraft appears slightly higher than the KLM jet, one would expect air traffic controllers would compensate for an unusually low approach angle and be satisfied that any wake turbulence would not under any circumstance throw people around the beach.
Here is another shot of a Boeing 757. Again, not even grains of sand are affected by the low approach. Click any of these photos for enlargements.
Here is another example.
One eyewitness claims that the object that hit the Pentagon was just six feet off the ground as it clipped a generator and even a car antenna before impacting on the building. In this instance one would surely expect the wake turbulence to have some affect and photographs do show the damaged generator immediately in front of the building.
While further confirmation will obviously be necessary in closing the case, it appears the argument that the lack of damage from wake turbulence does not prove that anything other than a large commercial airliner hit the Pentagon on September 11 2001.
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